The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Midlife crises tackled in the basin

with 6 comments

I always thought that midlife crisis was supposed to be temporary condition. Unavoidable, as a teenage girl getting her periods, but at least you wouldn’t have to put up with it for an extended amount of time.

There would be some existential angst, questioning of why life became what it became, if this is how it’s supposed to be, and if there’s any meaning even to try to make a change. I might do something desperate – quit my job, take a trip to see a Tibetan guru or find myself a lover. If I was a really bad case I might see a shrink. That’s what they do in Woody Allen’s movies. (Not that it seems to help very much.)

It wouldn’t be long-lasting, a year at its most. Then I’d be good as fit again, ready to go on with my life.

But either I was wrong about the character of a proper midlife crisis, or I’m in the extreme end of the normality curve of how long it lasts; fact is that it feels as if I’ve been chronically stuck in the middle-aged broodings for a number of years now, and I don’t yet see how it would end anytime soon.

Perhaps I just haven’t found the right treatment yet, the activity that would bring me back not only a spark, but also a sense of direction in life.

Synchronized swimming
I think that’s why I couldn’t help feeling a little bit envious as I watched the documentary Men Who Swim.

This film is the story about something rare, namely a Swedish team of men in their 40s who as adults have formed an all-male team to do synchronized swimming. Yes, you read me right, it’s *that* kind of synchronized swimming. Ballet in the basin. Floating and holding hands, forming flowers in the water, making elegant splashes with your feet, accompanied by music.

That’s exactly the thing this team is doing, and they’re doing it in a pretty serious manner. Not in a “hahaha, look at those crazy men who do “women’s stuff, how silly – are they gay?” manner. Admittedly they’re not brilliant at it, at least not initially. They’re rather clumsy, disorganized and have bodies that look as old as they are, which off course adds a touch humor, when they display some healthy self distance. But at the same time they’re really making an effort and they’re not a bit ashamed about what they’re doing.

As we watch the everyday conflicts within the team, the alpha males arguing in the locker room, I figure it’s not that different from what it’s like to be in any football team. The film doesn’t dwell much on the issue of their masculinity, if synchronized swimming could be considered an unmanly thing. And that’s what so refreshing about it. It’s as if they’re reclaiming their liberty to do whatever they want, free from the burdens of expectations that normally drag us down.  As weightless and free as in the water.

You could say that the film is about how the team prepares for the world championships for all-male teams of synchronized swimming in 2009. But even more it’s about a group of men who each one in their own way are going through a midlife crisis, and how the swimming helps them to handle it. It’s also a pretty much spot-on portray of Sweden of today, as seen through the eyes of a Welshman, who isn’t just the movie maker, but also one of the team members.

Dry swim performance
I won’t reveal how it went for the gents in the world championship. But I can say as much as that the team is still going strong. I watched them earlier this autumn as they did a dry swim performance outdoors at a cultural festival in Stockholm. You can see it for yourself here.

I don’t know if they’re still fueled by their midlife crisis or if they’re out on the other side now. But I know that my own felt more manageable as I watched how they tackled theirs.

Men Who Swim (Orig title: Män som simmar, Dylan Williams, SWE, 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

October 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

Posted in Men Who Swim

6 Responses

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  1. Thanks for getting this one on the radar screen. Watched it today and absolutely loved it!


    October 27, 2011 at 1:03 am

    • I’m so glad you did and that you didn’t get disappointed! Swedish synchronized swimming rules!


      October 27, 2011 at 7:42 am

  2. Interestings. I had a friend in college what had competed at the Olympic level in synchro and were still doin’ it competetivelies, Havin’ seen how hard she worked, would never occur ta me fer ta consider it in any way a weak or effeminate sport.

    Did the dudes haveta keep them huge smiles on they’s faces whenevers they was above water? Leslie hated that part of it….


    October 27, 2011 at 3:49 am

    • No, it appears as if it’s different for guys now that you say it. No mandatory false smilling there. A bit unfair. And I can’t say that I missed those smiles. I think it looks cooler if you have a straight face most of the time, perhaps cracking up at some point. But not that artificial expression that makes you look as if you’ve been into surgery.


      October 27, 2011 at 7:45 am

  3. That seems like a bonkers film. Mad that it is an actual real story, not a mock-u-mentary.

    Great write up!!

    Thanks Jessica

    Scott Lawlor

    October 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

    • For how bonkers it sounds it actually feels completely natural in the movie. The movie breathes of “this is our everyday life”. It’s not as if they’re portraying a bunch of crazy guys. I think the from-the-inside perspective helps a bit. Since it’s made by a brit, with brittish narration and partly brittish financiation (BBC perhaps, don’t remember), it shouldn’t be impossible to get hands on it in UK. I surely recommend it to anyone.


      October 28, 2011 at 10:46 am

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